February is recognized as Heart Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness for heart disease.
“We want the awareness to increase among the health care workers and also the patients so that we follow the same practice even in the community centers,” explained Dr. Anu Vallanki, a cardiologist at Windham Hospital.
Vallanki stressed that a heart attack or stroke should not be a person’s wake-up call.
“Preventative cardiology is the most important thing,” said Vallanki.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women. It affects people of all races and backgrounds, and the CDC reports that while the risk for disease increases with age, higher rates of obesity and high blood pressure among younger people (ages 35-64) are putting them at risk earlier in life.
Lisa Gilmour is a patient in Windham’s Cardiac Rehabilitation program. She has a history of heart disease in her family, but altered her lifestyle years ago to try to prevent a heart attack.
“I try to eat healthy and hike, kayak, bike,” said Gilmour. “Doing all of those things, I had no idea that this was going to pop up.”
Last October, Gilmour was visiting her daughter in Tazmania. She was being her active self and went hiking for several days. When she was packing to head to Australia, though, her shirt started to feel snug.
"I started to get a pain up my jaw, down my shoulders and into my hands and I said to my family, ‘please take me to the hospital. There is something very wrong,'" Gilmour explained.
Doctors told Gilmour she was having a heart attack and that she would need surgery immediately.
"The cardiac team told me when I was in recovery that if I had waited, things could have ended very differently for me,” said Gilmour.
Vallanki said that symptoms present differently in men and women. She said that women are often misdiagnosed.
Symptoms can include shortness of breath, tightening in the chest, nausea, jaw-pain, back-pain. Vallanki said people who smoke, have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or a family history of heart disease are at greater risk.
Windham Hospital is hosting its annual Go Red For Women Health Expo tonight to raise awareness.
The event is $20, paid at the door, and goes from 5:30 p.m. until 9 p.m. in the hospital’s atrium. There will be health screenings available and the chance to hear from the hospital’s lead cardiologist.